Riding Habit - Edith Lavinia Cameron

Contributed by: Canberra Museum and Gallery

Riding Habit - Full View Riding Habit - Bodice Buttons Cuff - Detail Sleeve - Detail Jacket Interior Skirt - Full View Buttons on Skirt Skirt Lining Holes around Skirt Hem Tears in Skirt Repair to Skirt Mould Damage to Skirt Sweat Stains on Jacket Kilby Family (1908). Edith Cameron is seated far right. Land's End (c.1915)
  • Australian dress register ID:

  • Owner:

    Canberra Museum and Gallery
  • Owner registration number:

  • Date range:

    1890 - 1899
  • Place of origin:

    Limestone Plains, New South Wales, Australia
  • Gender:

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Object information

Significance statement

Riding habit belonging to Edith Lavinia Cameron (nee. Kilby). This ensemble is historically signficant because of its well-documented connection both to the Kilby and Cameron families who were some of the earliest settlers in the Limestone Plains region, later to be incorporated into the Australian Capital Territory. 

Despite Edith Cameron owning a riding habit, this is not indicative of superior wealth or status. The Kilbys and Camerons were both of modest means, Robert being a blacksmith before he became a farmer and Evan Cameron's father being a teacher. Land's End was a far more modest property compared to the grander estates of Duntroon and Lanyon. Thus it is unlikely that such a garment was reserved for country sports, but instead worn for more practical purposes, which would explain the degree of wear and tear observed. 

This ensemble is also historically signficant as a representatve and relatively intact example of a riding habit originating from the 1890s demonstrating how such a conservatively designed garment (commonly known for its absense of decoration) still reflected contemporary fashions. For exmaple, the bodice has been designed in accordance with the current fashion, clinched in at the waist, puffed sleeves and buttoned from the navel to the neck, but the skirt conforms with the standard design of a riding habit and the garment is constructed from a typical black wool.

Author: Amy Butterfield, 8.4.14.


A riding habit comprising: black lined jacket (or basque) with covered buttons down front, slightly puffed sleeves, high collar and peplum, some boning around the back. The riding habit is in the late-Victorian style of a basque (jacket) with a peplum (a ruffle attached at the waistline) worn over a blouse and with a long, full skirt. Skirt is black cotton drill, gathered at the rear, lined in brown cotton.

History and Provenance

Sixteen-year-old Robert Kilby (1839 – 1915) and his 45 year-old widowed father William Kilby (1812? – 1903) arrived in Australia from England in 1856. William Kilby lived to be 91 and is buried in Weetangera Cemetery (Cameron, Four Pioneers of the Limestone Plains, pp. 39-41). William Kilby’s sister, Mary Smith (1818 – 1907), had previously migrated to Australia with her husband and settled at Ginninderra, and the Kilbys joined them there after reaching Sydney. Following the passage of the Free Selectors Act (1861), Robert, and his father selected 16 hectares at Weetangera for the purposes raising sheep and grazing cattle, naming it Land's End.

Their first homestead at Weetangera was built by Robert and Jane in the 1860s. Edith lived at Land’s End continuously from her birth until a few weeks before her death in 1957 (Canberra Times, 10/05/1957, p.4); though in 1926 Edith and Evan built a new house on the property, one mile closer to Canberra (Canberra Times, 01/06/1926, p.2).

Edith Kilby’s grandfather (William Kilby) and Evan Cameron’s grandmother (Mary Smith) were siblings. Mary had migrated to Australia with her husband Edward Smith in 1852. Edward was assigned to work at Duntroon before transferring to William Davis’ property at Ginninderra. Later he selected land at Weetangera, the homestead becoming known as The House, where he and Mary raised their family. Their daughter, Anne Smith, married Ewan Cameron, later the first teacher at the Weetangera School (1875 – 1884) in 1865 and amongst their children was the aforementioned Evan Cameron who married Edith Kilby.

In his book Four Pioneers of the Limestone Plains, Evan Cameron recounted the prevailing wisdom regarding the naming of Land’s End. Apparently, a local named John Coppin expressed his surprise that Robert and Jane Kilby had not heard some recent news to which Jane replied, “How would we hear anything, living in this land’s end of a place?” Robert liked the name and decided to apply it to his property (p.51).

Births, deaths, marriages, children or family information

Edith Lavinia Kilby was born on 11 September 1875 at Weetangera to Robert Kilby and his wife Jane Webster, whom he married in 1864. Edith was their fourth child and second daughter. She married Evan Cameron (1868 – 1956) in 1905 and they had five children: Twin daughters Freda Annie (1908 – 2001) and Thelma Jane (1908 – 1957), Heather Gladys (1909 – 2008), Selwyn Evan Robert (1911 - 1985) and Ewan Kinloch.

How does this garment relate to the wider historical context?

The Limestone Plains were the name given by the early settlers to the floodplains of the Molonglo River. Originally a farming/pastoralist community, they were later redeveloped as the site of the nation's capital, Canberra.

Where did this information come from?

Information supplied by the donor, Miss Heather Shakespeare (daughter of Edith Cameron) from the research undertaken by her, her father Evan and her uncle Ernest Cameron on the history of their family and the local district.

This garment has been exhibited

Exhibited in The Women Who Made Canberra held at Canberra Museum and Art Gallery, 24 November 2012 - 17 March 2013.

  1. Place of origin:

    Limestone Plains, New South Wales, Australia

  2. Owned by:

    The items belonged to Edith Lavinia Cameron (née Kilby) (1875 – 1957); then her daughter Heather Shakespeare (née Cameron) (1909 – 2008); then her niece Nanette Betts who donated the item to Canberra Museum and Art Gallery in 2008.

  3. Worn by:

    Edith Cameron, when she was in her late teens and twenties.

  4. Place:

    Land's End was located at Weetangera, now a suburb near Belconnen to the north of Canberra.

  5. Made for:

    Made for Edith Cameron. Riding habit dates from the 1890s; Edith would have been in her late teens or twenties.

Fibre / Weave

The ridinng habit jacket is sewn from black wool and the lining is light brown cotton. Fabric of skirt undetermined, but is lighter than the jacket, and slightly reflective (satin/wool mix). Both garments have been lined in a light brown cotton drill. 

  1. Natural dye
  2. Synthetic dye


The body of both garments have been machine sewn. Repairs and alterations to the skirt have all been hand sewn, as has the hem. Seams of the jacket have been finished by hand. Buttons have been attached by hand.


No manufactures label, garment is most likely home-made.


Extensive alterations to the skirt - a large section has been patched over concealing extensive alterations or repairs. 

  1. Hand sewn
  2. Machine sewn
  3. Knitted
  4. Other


  1. Bias
  2. Straight


There are 22 fabric-covered buttons arranged down the front of the jacket and 3 buttons on each cuff, which are covered in the same black cotton drill. One hook-and-eye fastening sewn on the collar. The skirt has four black buttons on the rear of the garment - material unknown. 

  1. Hook and eye
  2. Lacing
  3. Buttons
  4. Zip
  5. Drawstring

Stiffening / Lining / Padding

The jacket has boning inserted front and back, with the skirt lined in light brown cotton drill and the jacket in cream-coloured cotton.


jacket skirt
Neck 355 mm
Chest 835 mm
Waist 695 mm 610 mm
Cuff 210 mm
Hem circumference 1980 mm
Front neck to hem 350 mm
Front waist to hem 950 mm
Back neck to hem 600 mm
Back waist to hem 1155 mm
Sleeve length 600 mm
Neck to sleeve head 88 mm
Cross back 350 mm
Underarm to underarm 440 mm
Convert to inches

Dress Themes

For much of the nineteenth century women's riding ensembles were inspired by men's dark, tailored clothing. By the 1880s their dress was so similar that some observers noted that from a distance it was difficult to distinguish the ladies from the gentlemen. In this era women rode side-saddle, and the skirt was made longer on one side to accommodate this. The slightly puffed sleeves were popular in the early 1890s before the 'leg of mutton' sleeves of mid- to late-1890s fashion. For this reason, the riding habit most likely dates from the early 1890s.


Jacket has several tears in the neck lining, a few holes around the shoulders and is worn under the armpits. Jacket heavily stained aounrd the neck,  most likely the reuslt of sweat. 

Evidence of repairs

The skirt has been repaired numerous times, with a large rectangular patch attatched. Several tears in the skirt have also been repaired by hand with black thread, except one tear on the inside of the skirt which was repaired with brown thread to match the colour of the lining. Waistband has been shortened by folding over a section of fabric and then sewing the two sections together by hand. 

Mould damage

Slight mould damage around the hem of the skirt.


  1. Excellent
  2. Good
  3. Fair
  4. Poor


  1. Discolouration
  2. Holes
  3. Stained
  4. Torn
  5. Worn
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